One frequently-heard critique of Ayn Rand’s politics, even occasionally among alleged Objectivists, is that Rand too-narrowly construed the concept “censorship.” Such people argue that the concept should apply to any action of preventing someone from speaking his/her mind to a particular audience.
In her essay “Man’s Rights” in The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand herself summarized and argued against this view:
Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims. When unlimited and unrestricted by individual rights, a government is man’s deadliest enemy. It is not as protection against private actions, but against governmental actions that the Bill of Rights was written.
Now observe the process by which that protection is being destroyed.
The process consists of ascribing to private citizens the specific violations constitutionally forbidden to the government (which private citizens have no power to commit) and thus freeing the government from all restrictions. The switch is becoming progressively more obvious in the field of free speech. For years, the collectivists have been propagating the notion that a private individual’s refusal to finance an opponent is a violation of the opponent’s right of free speech and an act of “censorship.”
It is “censorship,” they claim, if a newspaper refuses to employ or publish writers whose ideas are diametrically opposed to its policy.
It is “censorship,” they claim, if businessmen refuse to advertise in a magazine that denounces, insults and smears them.
It is “censorship,” they claim, if a TV sponsor objects to some outrage perpetrated on a program he is financing–such as the incident of Alger Hiss being invited to denounce former Vice-President Nixon.
And then there is Newton N. Minow who declares: “There is censorship by ratings, by advertisers, by networks, by affiliates which reject programming offered to their areas.” It is the same Mr. Minow who threatens to revoke the license of any station that does not comply with his views on programming–and who claims that that is not censorship. Consider the implications of such a trend.
“Censorship” is a term pertaining only to governmental nation. No private action is censorship. No private individual or agency can silence a man or suppress a publication; only the government can do so. The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right not to agree, not to listen and not to finance one’s own antagonists.
Later, in the essay “The Cashing-In: The Student ‘Rebellion’” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand correctly identified the attempt to broaden the concept of censorship to the actions of private actions as a package-deal. Speaking of “the obliteration of the difference between private action and government action,” she wrote:
This has always been attempted by means of a “package-deal” ascribing to private citizens the specific violations constitutionally forbidden to the government, and thus destroying individual rights while freeing the government from any restrictions. The most frequent example of this technique consists of accusing private citizens of practicing “censorship” (a concept applicable only to the government) and thus negating their right to disagree.
Sadly, Rand has been vindicated in a distressingly personal way to the Objectivist movement, as Arthur Silber blogs and the National Post reports. The Canadian government has confiscated Ayn Rand Institute pamphlets defending Israel’s moral right to exist on the grounds that they may be “hate speech.” The pamphlets were on the way to the University of Toronto, as Yaron Brook will be speaking on the subject of Israel on Sunday. (I attended this talk in Denver. It was excellent. I only hope that this publicity will bring an overflow crowd to the event.)
No person is forced to read this pamphlet or hear Yaron Brooks’ speech. Contrary to the claims of some, that’s not censorship. No news media is required to report on the event. That’s not censorship either. No private organization is required to host the event. No printing company is required to print the pamphlet. No private shipping agency is required to ship the pamphlets. No airline is required to transport Yaron Brook to Toronto. Such things are not censorship. Such actions, if they occurred, might prevent Yaron Brook from gaining as wide of an audience as easily as he would like. But they would not prevent him from expressing his opinions. Only the government can accomplish that vile task, such as by confiscating pamphlets at the border!
To equate private acts of refusal of association or refusal of attention with the forcible suppression of speech and thought by the government is to equate the normal actions of everyday life with the most insufferable violation of the human mind possible. It is a monstrosity, a monstrosity that gives the government censors a slippery slope of moral justification for their actions.